There are pleasures aplenty in this latest doorstopper field-report from the world of unicorns, wizards, altered mental states, and magical transformations.
Inevitably, however, this ambitious gathering of 37 stories, ten poems, and a single nonfiction entry (critic Douglas E. Winter’s argumentative essay “The Pathos of Genre”) is somewhat uneven. Datlow and Windling aren’t really critics; they’re enthusiasts—and it does sometimes seem as if everything not written by Ann Beattie or Ed McBain meets their criteria for inclusion. (Is everything that’s not realistic therefore fantastic? It’s a legitimate critical crux.) That said, who wouldn’t want to encounter in one conveniently capacious volume such knockout stuff as the inexplicably underrated Delia Sherman’s atmospheric “The Parvat Ruby” (which is far superior to her wry poem “Carabosse”), newcomer Elizabeth Birmingham’s imaginative ghost story “Falling Away,” and consensus grandmaster Patricia A. McKillip’s superb “Toad” (which wryly adds sexual panic and species discrimination to the subtext of a classic fairy tale). Other deft retellings of familiar stories include N. Scott Momaday’s Native American fable “The Transformation,” Wendy Wheeler’s sensuous “Skin So Green and Fine,” and Gemma Files’s ingenious hybrid “The Emperor’s Old Clothes.” Old hands Ursula K. Le Guin, Gene Wolfe, and Steven Millhauser appear in fine form, and the estimable Neil Gaiman contributes both an unusually clever trick story (“Harlequin Valentine”) and a hair-raising portrayal of a preadolescent serial killer whose path to fame and fortune coolly updates Horatio Alger (“Keepsakes and Treasures: A Love Story”). A rather similar story, Michael Marshall Smith’s “What You Make It,” raises merry hell with the legend of the Pied Piper and the image of the kindly old granny. Also not to be missed: Steve Rasnic Tem’s beautifully written “Halloween Street,” Thomas Wharton’s Borgesian “The Paper-Thin Garden,” and April Seeley’s nicely conceived, poem “Mrs. Santa Decides to Move to Florida.”
Think of it as an early Christmas present to yourself. The perfect bedside book—as long as there’s a light left on in the hallway.